Safety should be top of mind as boating season begins, advocates urge

With the warm weather and a recent canoe accident on the Ottawa River, boating safety should be top of mind, says the Ottawa Drowning Prevention Coalition.

Number of drowning deaths in Ontario hit 8-year high in 2017

Jean-Michel Bouffard was one of a number of boaters out enjoying the warm holiday weather at the Aylmer Marina. Drowning prevention advocates are warning people to take safety precautions as the boating season hits its stride. (CBC)

As warm weather arrives and the boating season kicks off, drowning prevention advocates are urging people to keep water safety top of mind.

The safety reminders come after a canoe capsized Sunday night on the Ottawa River near the Deschênes Rapids, requiring four people to be treated for hypothermia.

Three of the four people on board were able to swim to shore, but one had to be rescued by water rescue specialty teams.

They were assessed for hypothermia before being taken to hospital. All were wearing life-jackets.

"[Life-jackets] will save your life," said André Mollema with the Ottawa Drowning Prevention Coalition.

"If you fall in, even though you're an experienced swimmer, you never know. You can knock your head on the boat on the way in, and then if you don't have that life saving device on, you will drown."

Mollema said it's also important people know the area and weather conditions, especially since conditions can change rapidly.

And even more importantly, don't drink and boat.

"Leave the beer on the pier," he said. "That's a recipe for disaster."

The Aylmer Marina was packed full of boaters taking advantage of the warm, sunny weather to take their boats out onto the water. (CBC)

Alcohol laws different in Ontario and Quebec

In Ontario, it's only legal to have alcohol on board if the boat has a permanent toilet, kitchen and sleeping area and is either anchored or docked.

In Quebec, boaters are legally allowed to have open alcohol, but the driver's blood-alcohol level can't be more than 0.08 per cent.

Police use GPS on the Ottawa River to determine if a boat is on the Ontario or Quebec side.

Mollema said it's also important to have the safety equipment on board that Transport Canada requires.

The list of requirements vary depending on the type of boat, but one thing remains the same: there must be enough life-jackets of the proper size for everyone on board.

Mollema also recommended bringing ID and a cell phone in case boaters get in trouble.

The Ottawa River has several areas with rapids, which can cause difficult boating conditions. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Boating season begins

Several people at the Aylmer Marina were taking advantage of the warm holiday Monday weather to launch their boats for the first time.

Jean-Michel Bouffard said he always ensures he brings life-jackets.

"With the kids, it's even more important because they're walking quickly and not always thinking about what they're doing beside the water," he said.

"So, it's really important to have them close by and to make sure — when they're close to the water — that they have the life-jacket on them."

André Mollema with Ottawa Drowning Prevention Coalition says life-jackets are a literal life-saver when it comes to safe boating. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Drowning still big concern

According to the Ontario Provincial Police, the number of boating deaths hit an eight-year high in 2017.

Thirty-one people died on OPP-patrolled rivers and lakes last year, compared to 23 in 2016. 

Between 1991 and 2014, boys and men accounted for 82 per cent of the more than 12,300 water related deaths, according to the Canadian Drowning Prevention Coalition.

Of that number, males between the ages of 15 and 34 accounted for the highest number of any age group, 

Mollema said that's likely because young men often feel overly confident they know the area and that they're strong enough swimmers that nothing bad will happen to them.

"That false feeling of safety can be deceiving sometimes."